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The last matchmakers: MN factory that still makes wooden matches is closing

The Diamond Match factory in Cloquet is the last one in the U.S. And it will close later this year.

It's likely that no town in America has made more matches than Cloquet, Minnesota.

No, they don't fix up couples on blind dates, they manufacture wooden matches people use to light candles, campfires, and cigars. But not for much longer.

The Diamond Match factory, which first opened in 1905, will close later this year, its owners announced this week. The shutdown will put 85 people in the northeastern Minnesota town out of work.

Newell Brands said in an emailed statement it has sold the Diamond brand to Royal Oak Enterprises. But the sale does not include the Cloquet plant, so Newell plans to close it within the next six months.

The company says in its statement "We have been a proud partner in Cloquet for years and are committed to ensuring ample resources and support for the 85 employees affected."

From tongue depressors to wartime espionage

Cloquet is a town that grew up around the wood products industry, and the Diamond factory has been a big part of that.

These days it focuses on matches and toothpicks, but they've made lots of other stuff over the years from clothespins to tongue depressors to chopsticks. A couple years ago the Pine Journal reported on a Carlton County Historical Society exhibit looking back over the life of the plant.

600 people worked there at its peak, the Journal says, and the Diamond factory was the biggest manufacturer of matches in the country. Later it would become the last American match factory.

It was also part of the World War II effort. The Historical Society exhibit explained that matches made in Cloquet were airdropped behind enemy lines with instructions (in seven languages) telling civilians how to use them to burn up enemy supplies and derail trains.

The plant's demise

Some former employees told the Pine Journal there was a drop in the demand for matches after indoor smoking bans became common.

But in recent years it's also become cheaper to make matches and other wood products overseas.

The plant occupies a 38 acre footprint in the town of 12,000. Cloquet's community development director tells MPR News the city will work on marketing the site to others in the wood products industry.

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